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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Lightning, Wednesday 12-2

Winners of five of their last six games, the Bruins (13-8-5) return to Garden ice as they host a solid Tampa Bay Lightning team (10-7-8) who currently sits in the 8th spot in the tight Eastern Conference race.

Boston made news early Wednesday off the ice, confirming the worst-kept secret in the hockey world, as they officially announced the signing of 32-year-old veteran center Marc Savard to a seven-year extension that will keep #91 in the Hub of Hockey through the 2016-17 season. Savard, who has played in five games since returning from a broken foot, will earn $28.05 million over the terms of the contract, at a very friendly cap hit of just over $4 million per year. The contract is significantly front-loaded, enabling Savard to earn the majority of that $28 million in the first four years of the contract, while giving the Bruins flexibility at the back end of the deal, in case a buyout of the contract ever needs to be considered as Savard gets older.

On the ice, Savard has been nothing short of spectacular in his time with the B’s, and throughout his 13-year NHL career. Savard has notched 673 points in his 752 career NHL games, and is currently sitting on 199 career goals. This season, in the 15 games he missed with the broken foot, the team went a dreadful 5-for-44 on the power play. In the five games since his return, the B’s have already put up five goals on the man advantage, on just 15 chances. Savard has four goals and six assists in the 11 games he’s played this season, including assists in three straight games. Looking at Wednesday’s opponent, in the four games the Bruins faced the Lightning last season, Savard put up five assists to help the B’s win three of those four matchups.

Let’s now look a bit closer at tonight’s opponent. Some call them the Lightning, others call them the Bolts…I like to simply call them “The ‘Ning.”

  • Tampa is coming off a 3-0 shutout loss at home at the hands of Craig Anderson and the Colorado Avalanche Monday night. The ‘Ning (see, I told you that’s my nickname of choice for this team) now go on the road for a pair, starting tonight in Boston, followed by a Friday night affair in New Jersey with the Devils.
  • The ‘Ning have dropped eight games already in overtime or the shootout, which leads the league. Ironically, Tampa led the league in this department last season as well, dropping an eye-popping 18 games in extra time.
  • Tampa Bay currently ranks 2nd in the league with just over 17 penalty minutes per game. The team does play a pretty physical brand of hockey, which does contribute to that high PIM number, but more so, those penalty minutes are more a product of youth and inexperience (i.e. taking cheap tripping and hooking penalties at inopportune times).
  • Another black mark on the Bolts’ resume is their lack of success on the penalty kill. They currently sit 27th among the league’s penalty killing units, at 76.6%. Boston’s power play has not been sparkling all season long but as mentioned above, since Marc Savard’s return, the B’s are 5-for-15 on the man-advantage, with signs of improvement.
  • In goal, the ‘Ning feature a two-headed monster of Antero Niittymaki (6-3-3, 2.18GAA) and Mike Smith (4-4-5, 3.22GAA). Niittymaki’s .931 save percentage is good for 2nd in the league behind Buffalo’s Ryan Miller at .937.
  • On the offensive end, Tampa features second-year center Steven Stamkos, whose 29 points (17 goals, 12 assists) leads the team. Following Stamkos is veteran winger Martin St. Louis (5G, 23A – 5th in the NHL for assists). St. Louis is a former teammate of Bruins’ goalie Tim Thomas, as the two spent time together skating for the University of Vermont Catamounts. Behind St. Louis on the stat sheet is former Penguin Ryan Malone (15G, 8A) and center Vincent Lecavalier (5G, 16A).
  • The Bruins have already hosted last year’s top draft pick, the Islanders’ John Tavares, twice at TD Garden this season, but tonight, the B’s will get their first look at the draft’s #2 pick, Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman. The 18-year-old Hedman has 7 assists on the year, still in search of his first NHL goal.
  • With defenseman Mattias Ohlund returning to action Monday after missing seven games with an ankle injury, the ‘Ning can boast a squeaky clean injury report, which is extremely rare around the league these days. Boston’s lone boo-boo still belongs to Milan Lucic, who is sidelined for another few weeks as he nurses a bad ankle.
  • Lastly, you won’t see any former Bruins or former local high school or college talent on the current Lightning roster tonight. That made me wonder…what ever happened to Matt Lashoff? If you remember, one of Boston’s deadline deals last season sent the young defenseman and winger Martins Karsums to Tampa in exchange for veteran Mark Recchi. Come to find out, both Lashoff and Karsums can be found back in the AHL, skating for the Norfolk Admirals, Tampa’s minor league affiliate. Who is the leading scorer this season for the Norfolk Admirals, you might ask? (Ok, you probably don’t care, I know.) None other than former Bruin, Brandon Bochenski. Bochenski was acquired during the ’06-’07 season from Chicago, in exchange for winger Kris Versteeg, in a deal that still stings the B’s. Versteeg put up 22 goals and 53 points overall in his first full season last year with the ‘Hawks.

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